• Steven Heller

Design Against War

In 1937, two years before the Nazis triggered World War II with its surprise invasion leading to the brutal occupation of Poland, the American League Against War and Fascism published Billions for Bullets, a well-argued polemic against American armament build-up by Elizabeth Noble and starkly illustrated by Joseph Kaplan.

Captured by Kaplan

The Minsk-born Joseph Kaplan (1900-1980), who left Russia in 1912, was a painter, printmaker, photographer, and teacher who worked primarily in New York and Provincetown, where his impressionistic style captured the natural beauty of the area. This work, influenced by Otto Neurath’s pictorial language, the ISOTYPE, was early and not entirely representative of his later work. Nonetheless, it was an effective means of data visualization at a time when an isolationist America needed all the data against Fascism it could get.

Kaplan, who is little known in the history of illustration, was most active in the 1940s through the 1950s. Earlier in his career he worked on several WPA Federal Art Projects and Treasury Relief Art Projects.

He studied at the Educational Alliance Art School and the Art Students League. He went to Provincetown in the mid-twenties as a student of Charles W. Hawthorne with whom he previously studied with at the National Academy of Design.

Billions for Bullets was one of many examples of good propaganda in the so-called “war against war”, a war fated to become an all-out bloody conflagration to defeat the Nazi and Axis enemies.

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